Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Will CINOS Pass The Test This Time?

San Francisco: The Epicenter of Compassion

I paused upon seeing the headline in the San Francisco Chronicle:

S.F. Gay Community An Epicenter For New Strain of Virulent Staph

I then headed straight home and read the news:

(New York City) "A drug-resistant bacteria once thought to be contained in a handful of hospitals is now being found primarily among gay men in major cities a new report shows."

My mind conjured up all the times of the 80s and 90s in SF when non-profits like the AIDS Emergency Fund were operating in a kind of frantic overdrive. People were literally dying in the streets while others outside the City were (ahem) dancing in the streets (picture Jerry Falwell and Jesse Helms waltzing together). I lived through the afternoon in a state of anxiety close to panic attack.

In the evening, my fears were largely abated by the likes of one Mary Risley of Food Runners, the founder of a group of (now) 280 volunteers who collect the City's excess food from restaurants, delis, bakeries, you name it, and bring it to thousands of hungry people every day. I was at the San Francisco Bay Area's annual celebration of Jefferson Award winners.

Founded in the early 70's by Sam Beard and Jacqueline Kennedy, the Jefferson Award is given to people for outstanding public service. The San Francisco Chronicle, KPIX-CBS NEWS and CBS Radio along with a steering committee pick a person whose community efforts stand out. One each week. There were 52 award winners in the room along with two years of former winners. So, there were 156 Mary Risleys in the reception room. Needless to say, it was a humbling experience.

And gratifying as well: the San Francisco Bay Area is the only one of its kind when it comes to compassion. No other major metropolitan area hosts as many Jefferson Awardees. Perhaps one of the reasons San Francisco has so many homeless, illegal aliens and people living with AIDS is because those people know they will be treated with more compassion, dignity and respect than in other cities.

I then thought of today's news: Could this be another AIDS? Twenty-five years ago many of America's most prominant CINOs (Christians In Name Only) were given a test to their capacity for compassion. They failed miserably. As I stated in another post, the Southern Baptist Convention of churches has never sponsored an AIDS agency of any kind in this country.

"Sustained and focused prevention efforts and effective risk-reduction initiatives must be scaled up across the country if we are going to reverse this trend in infections among [men who have sex with men]. Better leadership is required at all levels: federal, state, local and within communities themselves."

San Francisco may again be an epicenter - for compassion.

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